Megas Alexandros

The expedition of Alexander is one of the most fascinating interludes in the story of civilization that has attracted writers throughout the ages. The great Emperor had an acute sense of history and included professional writers in his train, yet it is ironical that great mystery surrounds his last years. Did he die a natural death or at the hands of conspirators?

Did he defeat the Prasii as Justin wrote? Did he speak about the Brotherhood of Man in the banquet at Opis as Sir W.W. Tarn held? What was the background of his deification? Historians of Alexander have rarely benefitted from new sources - archaeological or textual, and new writers had to be content with only reinterpretation of old documents but Indian literature now ends the impasse and offers a deep insight into many aspects of his life.

One new finding - the identification of Megasthenes' Palibothra with Kahnuj in Carmania (instead of Patna in eastern India), calls for sea changes in the ancient history of the Orient. It sheds new light on the strange and exciting adventures of Alexander in Indo-Iran and resolves the mystery of his sudden death and of many other long-standing puzzles. It also belies the claims of E. Badian and P. Green that Alexander was a thoroughgoing tyrant, ruthless and cruel.

Badian was unaware that behind Alexander's clarion call for Brotherhood of Man stands a Prophet of Prophthasia who had once adorned the Persian throne5 and that the sage Kalanos (Aspines) was the great Buddhist scholar Asvaghosha. The very name Sasigupta tells a story (Sashi=Chandra) that has remained unheard due to the callousness of historians.

Palibothra in the north-west brings to the fore a great Sanskrit drama, the Mudrarakshasa, which is widely recognised as a mine of historical information. Most strikingly, the drama shows the great respect of Chandragupta for Alexander, the benevolent hero he himself had managed to poison.


Though it remained virtually unknown for centuries, in modern India the Mudrarakshasa is a popular drama, yet its interpretation is still in infancy. To appreciate this court drama it is essential to recreate the ambiance in which it was first staged and realise that it had nothing to do with Bihar. The word Mudra in Sanskrit stands for a signet-ring and the plot is woven around the stealing of the signet-ring of Rakshasa, the minister of the Nandas. This need not immediately remind one of the possession of Alexander’s signet-ring by Perdikkas which was probably stolen and which played a crucial role in the succession battle.

In the play Vairochaka is killed as he passes under a mechanically operated Torana or coronation arch. Can this be related to the warning of the Chaldeans who came to Alexander and asked him to enter Babylon from the eastern side? Was there a conspiracy to kill Alexander by a crashing gate? After all this was a well-known Babylonian tactic. This may not sound convincing but there is more. Bhagurayana who spies on his master may be an echo of Bagoas the younger who is widely suspected to have been an agent.

The name of the bard Stanakalasha is a simple inversion of Callisthenes who was probably caught up in the tragic course of events. There are slanted references to the aging chamberlain who is clearly Permenio. The flaunting of wealth by the treasurer in the play points to Harpalus’ misadventures. Poisoning, Poison-maidens and forged letters have all been discussed in relation to Alexander’s death and these are also the central elements of the play. Rakshasa, after whom the drama is named is clearly Roxyartes or Oxyartes as can be seen from the name of his daughter Roxane. It is more than likely that Tissaraxa, one of Asoka’s wives, was related to Raxasa’s line.

The other principal character of the play is Chanakya, the minister of Chandragupta. A careful study shows that he was none other than Bagoas the Elder, Prime Minister of Artaxerexes-III Ochus. In the drama Abhayadatta attempts to poison Chandragupta but the plot is detected and he is forced to drink the draught. This is exactly what one reads about Bagoas the Elder’s death - that he attempted to poison Darius-III but was forced to drink his own cup of poison. The name of Darius-III in the Babylonian records is Arta-Sata. This, in fact, is the same as Sarva-Arta-Sata or Sarva-Artha-Siddhi, the name of the Nanda king in the play. Sarva was the name of Shiva, a protector god.

Classical writers reported that Bagoas poisoned Ochus, gave his flesh to cats and made knife handles with his bones. It is astonishing to find that the Mudrarakshasa also recounts an identical story. Chanakya refused a decent burial to the Nanda king he had poisoned and animals feasted on the flesh of the Nandas. It is uncanny to realise that apart from Chanakya and Chandragupta the play has among its dramatis personae the ghost of Alexander, his wife Roxane, his infant son and his father-in-law Oxyartes.

From the drama itself it is difficult to explain why, after all his misdeeds and bungling, Rakshasa was installed as the Prime minister in preference to the mighty Chanakya, but if one remembers that Roxane, his daughter, became the regent after Alexander’s death, this appears only natural. The original inspiration of the Mudrarakshasa may have been derived from Alexander’s foray into dramatics at Patala. It is probable that it was written under the patronage of Sasigupta, once a darling of Alexander. The Mudrarakshasa, which is one of the great Sanskrit Classics, belongs to world literature.


Palibothra, the Indian capital, was famous for its peacocks; Lane Fox writes, “.. Dhana Nanda’s kingdom could have been set against itself and Alexander might yet have walked among Palimbothra’s peacocks”. Curiously, Arrian wrote that the great Emperor was so charmed by the beauty of peacocks that he decreed the severest penalties against anyone killing it. Where did he come across the majestic bird? Does this fascination lead us to Palibothra? It appears from Asoka’s Edicts that ritual slaughter of the bird (Mayura) was practiced by the Mauryas. After all Justin wrote that he had defeated the Prasii. A closer examination of the histories of India and Iran shows that this is indeed the truth, but before going into details it is expedient to examine an age-old riddle which has been glossed over by all the writers though its bearing on the history of Alexander is immense. Where exactly was Palibothra?


The discovery of Megasthenes’ Palibothra at Patna by Sir William Jones in the closing years of the 18th century, which is widely considered to be a cornerstone of Indology, was in reality a serious blunder that is not supported by a single archaeological find. In Jones’ day history was written on the basis of texts alone and though learned contemporary scholars like Rennell did not agree, the discovery was hailed as a landmark in Orientology by popular vote. Jones missed that as the name India originated from the river Hindu (Indus), the centre of ancient India has to be the north-west, not Bihar.

Due to this crucial error, common sense literally evaporated from Indian ancient history and Indology remained a still-born child. Jonesian historians like A.D.H. Bivar, R. Thapar and B.N. Mukherjee and archaeologists like F.R. Allchin and Dilip Chakravarty zealously guard one cardinal secret of Indology - that there is not a single known artefact of the great Chandragupta Maurya. Even Basham wrote, “The early history of India resembles a zigsaw puzzle with many missing pieces; some parts of the picture are fairly clear; others may be reconstructed with the aid of controlled imagination; but many gaps remain and may never be filled”.

Like Basham, Thapar, or Allchin, today many others reluctantly accept Sir Arthur Berridale Keith’s gnostic-sounding refrain that some aspects of Indian history must remain uncertain. This cynicism is a legacy of British Indology; history of ancient India is not beyond the realm of scientific enquiry - only it stands on a false premiss which has to be discarded forthwith.

Writers on Indian ancient history have ignored that there is no archaeological corroboration of Jones’ hypothesis at all. Excavations at Patna have failed to unearth a single inscription, sculpture or coin of not only the Nandas or Chandragupta but even of Asoka. Although the eminent scholar Sir Mortimer Wheeler pointed out that urbanisation of Eastern India cannot be traced before the period of Bindusara, the obvious consequence of this has been lost upun gullible historians. It is impossible to visualize the enormous wealth of the Nandas in Patna of the fourth century BC.

Tarn wrote about a Prasiane near Patala and had serious misgivings about a ‘raid’ from Rawl Pindi upon Jones’ Palibothra(GBI, p. 146) but Bivar boldly imagines a 6th century BC Magadha in the Gangetic area forgetting that the first mention of that name occurs only in a 3rd century BC inscription of Asoka. In sharp contrast, the famous archaeologist A. Ghosh emphatically stated that the history of Patna is based on texts, not archaeology. Kulke and Rothermund also refuse to swallow Jonesian chaff. The absurdity is heightened by the fact that Persian emperors assumed the name Nanda - Darius-II was Nonthos - and that the name Nunudda occurs in the Persepolis fortification tablets. Bivar’s categorical statement, “So far as India is concerned, the Fortification Tablets attest an active and substantial traffic, though they shed no light on the geography of that province.” is empty. The fortification tablets clearly show that Palibothra was in the north-west. On the other hand the eminent historian N.G.L. Hammond unhesitatingly admits that “Patna is too far east”.


The clearest hint leading to the exact location of Palibothra comes from Alexander’s history. Owing to Jones’ error the straightforward implication of Alexander’s famous week-long celebration of “victory over the Indians” at Kahnuj in Gedrosia has been lost. Writers like Bosworth and Green failed to realise that the victory over the Indians could have been celebrated only at the chief Indian city. This clearly attests to a Palibothra in the north-west. Numerous other evidences indicate that in the fourth century BC south-eastern Iran was a part of India. Vincent Smith had a clear insight and agreed with authors like Stephanus and Pliny that Gedrosia and Carmania were within ancient India but due to a blind faith in Jones, writer like Basham, Raychaudhuri, and Thapar have ignored this.

The name Palibothra, which means ‘city of the Bhadras’ (City = Kala, Bala, Pala, Polis etc.) indicates a location in Gedrosia which was the Bhadrasva of the Indian texts. Another hint is in name Batrasasave of an important city in Carmania. This is linked to Palibatra or Palibothra. V. Elisseeff writes with great insight; “The Iranian region, with its affinity for the Orient, permitted the development of two different cultural areas: the northwestern one, more properly Iranian, with the localities of Tepe Giyan, Tepe Sialk, Tepe Hissar, and Anau; and the south-eastern one, which can be considered Indian, of Baluchistan and the centers of the valley of the Zhob and of Quetta and Amri.” Elisseeff clearly perceives what more influential writers like Bivar or Mary Boyce have failed to note. However, south eastern Iran was not only closer to India from the archaeological viewpoint - even in the 4th century BC it was India proper.

Bosworth writes that the victory was celebrated near Khanu or Kahnuj. Nearby Gulaskherd was probably Kusumapura which was a name of Pataliputra. This shows that Hidus or India extended upto Southeast Iran. The very name Kahnuj shows the absurdity of Jonesian Indology. Kanyakubja, which is thought to be synonymous with Kanauj occurs in the Ramayana and certainly belongs to an era far earlier than the age of the Maukharis when Kanauj in eastern India was a great city. (6th Cent. AD) Therefore the significance of the presence of another ancient city of the same name in Carmania is immense. As Khuvja was the name of Elam Kanyakubja can be easily seen to be Kahnuj. No wonder that here one encounters hoary primogenitors like Manu who ruled Dilmun, Magan and Melukhkha. Magan must have been the earlier Magadha of the texts.

This clears the mystery centered around the names Dilmun, Magan, and Melukkha which were almost always mentioned together in the Mesopotamian records. Dilmun, Magan, and Melukkha was in fact the Greater India of antiquity. Palibothra was the chief city of the Indians which suggests that it was only a different name of Kanauj which had a similar position in the Indian texts. Dow in his History of Hindostan identified Sandrocottos with Sinsarchund who, according to Firista, ruled from Kanauj.

The relocation of Palibothra throws overboard the entire history of Alexander’s expedition after the revolt at Hyphasis and focusses on another great figure of 4th century BC - Chandragupta. Palibothra in the north-west leads to a sweeping reformulation of the early history of India. Nearly all the historical figures appear to be from the north-west. Gomata of the Behistun inscription must have been Gotama Buddha. Bagapa of Babylon was surely Gotama whose title was Bhagava. Experts on the Indo_Greeks and Arsacids have missed that Diodotus was the true Asoka.

Ghirshman writes that the name of the founder of the Arsacid dynasty was Assak. Raychaudhuri equated Chandragupta with Androcottos. This could be the same as Andragorus who appears to be a contemporary. Andragorus could have been a Saka. The Rajatarangini states that the father of Chandragupta was Shakuni, probably a Saka. It may be noted that the Arsacids were also called Arsakuni. The great scholar B.M. Barua maintained that Chandragupta was from Gandhara. In the Mahabharata also Shakuni was the brother of queen Gandhari.